When your digital life can fit into a tiny physical space and you can buy extra storage if you need, it’s easy to think that electronic clutter - the files, apps and programmes that lie gathering metaphorical dust - doesn’t really count. However, just because it isn’t taking up physical space, doesn’t mean it isn’t getting in the way.
If your physical workspace is littered with documents, paper, files and clutter, you’ll probably find it hard to concentrate and get things done. Your electronic workspace is no different. Clutter in your inbox, on your phone, tablet, laptop or computer not only slows you (and your devices) down, it affects your productivity too. This is the first of three posts in which, to paraphrase Albert Einstein, we’ll explain how to find simplicity out of clutter.
Neuroscience tells us that our brain capacity is limited, so having to sift through clutter or test your memory remembering where something is or what you’re supposed to do next creates extra work for your brain. When your inbox is clear, your files are in order, your gadgets aren’t distracting you, and your to-do list is written down rather than in your head, you’re freeing up brain capacity for more important tasks.
Simplifying and organising your electronic life will increase your chance of reaching flow – the mental state where you’re fully immersed in the work you’re doing, and feel completely focused. Graham Allcott, author of How to be a Productivity Ninja and founder of Think Productive says: ''Clutter gets in the way of flow - if you're having to stop and find things it takes you out of flow. Most of us don't experience flow very often in our work, so we should try and preserve it."
Another problem with electronic clutter is that it contributes to stress, which has a well-documented impact on your productivity. The relationship between electronic clutter and stress hinges on the fact that it can cloud your priorities.
“Stress is the opposite of flow, and it often comes from uncertainty and feeling out of control. Electronic clutter contributes to uncertainty, because you don't know what you need to do, and how long it will take you to do it,” says Alcott.
He adds that decluttering isn’t just about making things look neat and tidy - people have different levels of tolerance for clutter and mess – it’s actually about creating certainty; certainty about where things are and what it is you need to do.
So how do you start to declutter your electronic world? Alcott suggests these three steps:
1. Identify pain points
Start by identifyStart by identifying your pain points: what's inhibiting your flow, and what will save you the most time in the long-run? It could be a messy desktop, thousands of unread emails, unused apps or even password you just can’t remember.ing your pain points: what's inhibiting your flow, and what will save you the most time in the long-run? It could be a messy desktop, thousands of unread emails, unused apps or even password you just can’t remember.
2. Come up with a solution
Next, diagnose how you're going to remedy those pain points. In some cases, you might need to focus on changing your behaviour, or dedicate a set period of time to decluttering, or in other cases, an app or tool might be the solution.
3. Get started
When you know where the problem is and how you're going to tackle it, start! If it seems overwhelming, just do the first five minutes. Once you're past that first five minute barrier, the rest will seem far less daunting, and you’ll probably be feeling energised and positive about finishing.
We’ll be bringing you two more posts in the coming weeks, with more on how to declutter your phone, tablet and laptop.
Title tag: Why you should clear your electronic clutter | SmarterEveryday